Kerber Denies Serena, Claims First Major Title
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
Embed from Getty Images
Angelique Kerber shocked the world and Serena Williams by defeating the world number one in three sets to claim her first grand slam title and in the process, deny Serena number 22.
In a thrilling final, Kerber came through 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and ten minutes to stun the tennis world and become the first German since 1999 to win a major title.
The German was a huge under-dog heading into Saturday’s final. After all, Serena had coasted through the draw and had looked imperious throughout the fortnight- it seemed like nothing would stand in her way.
What nobody counted on was a 28-year-old roadblock in the final leg. Kerber retrieved and retrieved and countered with interest, but more importantly she rarely let the occasion get to her. It was an unexpected and impressive performance- even if she did have a bit of help.
The world number one was error prone and despite her clear attempts at trying to get something going, it just wasn’t happening. Kerber remained consistent and her retrieval skills forced Williams to go for more than she perhaps needed. Careless errors were rife and the pressure of matching Steffi Graf might have been playing on the mind of Serena.
To the surprise of almost everyone Kerber took the first set 6-4, but the thoughts of almost anyone were ‘when will Williams kick into gear’. In reality it didn’t take the American raising her level to find the break with Kerber throwing in her first bad game of the match to concede an early break in the second set. Two double faults and an unforced error proved to be costly, and Williams went on to level the match.
The German went up an early break in the final set but conceded it straight back to Williams. But Kerber kept fighting and earned another break and the chance to serve out the match. However, the pressure of winning her maiden grand slam title clearly got to the German and Serena was allowed back into the match- only briefly.
Despite being 40-30 down at 5-4, Kerber played two great points to earn championship point. What was to come was shocking as Serena seemingly had an easy volley winner only to miss it and see her Australian Open chances go down the drain. Kerber had done it. She had defeated the world number one and won her first major title. It is a culmination of a great story that saw the rise of the German from relative obscurity in 2011 to grand slam champion and world number two in 2016.
“You know, I mean, I had really crazy two weeks. I mean, with the first round where I was match point down, and then with the win over Azarenka in the quarters. I never beat her.” Kerber said in her post match press conference. (http://www.ausopen.com/en_AU/news/interviews/2016-01-30/angelique_kerber_300116.html)
“And now to play against Serena, what was a really honor to play against her in a Grand Slam final. It was my first final. You know, I was really looking forward. I was really excited.
“I knew before that I beat her once in Cincinnati, that I really must go out there to try to beat her again because she will not give it to me. It was a really great match from both of us.
“Yeah, really it’s a special moment for me.”
Serena must continue her wait for the record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title which is oddly enough held by another German in Graf. But despite the huge disappointment, Serena showed a lot of class post match, congratulating Kerber and being happy for her opponent.
“I was actually really happy for her. She’s been around a really long time. We’ve had a number of matches. I’ve beaten her a lot.” Williams said in her post match press conference (http://www.ausopen.com/en_AU/news/interviews/2016-01-30/serena_williams_300116.html)
“She played so well today. She had an attitude that I think a lot of people can learn from: just to always stay positive and to never give up.
“I was really inspired by that. So, honestly, she’s a really good girl. If I couldn’t win, I’m happy she did.”
And what about matching that record. Did the pressure have an effect on the final? Serena weighed in.
“I was nervous before the match. Once it got started, it was so intense from the beginning till the end that I didn’t really have time to be nervous.” The world number one said
“No, I didn’t think about the record at all. I think more or less I thought just about winning this match. It wasn’t necessarily the record for me.”
The thrilling finale capped off a dramatic Australian Open that saw plenty of stories and shocks along the way. One of the biggest came in form of Shuai Zhang who came through qualifying to make to win her first Grand Slam main draw match and reach the Quarter Finals. She upset second seed Simona Halep in round one before going on to be knocked out by Johanna Konta in the last eight.
The Brit made some headlines herself by going all the way to the last four, defeating the likes of Venus Williams and Ekaterina Makarova on the way. Konta however found the eventual champion Kerber a too big of task. But it was still an amazing two weeks for the British number one.
All in all it was another showcase for women’s tennis and why it can offer excitement and entertainment of the highest level.
2016 Australian Open Women’s Preview
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The first grand slam of the 2016 is upon us and it promises to be a cracker. The tour is wide open with potential winners, so let’s get down to it.
The Australian Open has been staged in seven cities throughout Australia and New Zealand since its launch in 1905. It moved to its present home named Melbourne Park in 1988, with the tournament also switching from a grass to hardcourt surface.
Defending champion Serena Williams has the Open Era record with six singles titles. Just two behind her with four victories are Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
The Australian Open
Tier: Grand Slam
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Prize money: $ 40,000,000
Date: January 18th- January 31st
Top eight seeds (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Simona Halep (2)
3. Garbine Muguruza (3)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)
5. Maria Sharapova (5)
6. Petra Kvitova (6)
7. Angelique Kerber (7)
8. Venus Williams (10)
Lucie Safarova (injury) and Flavia Pennetta (retired) are absent from the tournament.
First round matches to watch
(1) Serena Williams vs Camila Giorgi
The world number one begins her title defence with a tough round one clash with the unpredictable yet dangerous Giorgi.
There are few players that can match Serena’s power on the court, Giorgi is one of them. The Italian is a big hitter and on her day can blast almost anyone off the court. The top seed is still a massive favourite for this match and the tournament as a whole, but if Giorgi turns up she could catch Serena off guard.
The American has not had much in terms of warm up for the first grand slam of the year, and one thing is for sure- she will not get much rhythm from the Italian.
(28) Kristina Mladenovic vs Dominika Cibulkova
There are not many potential upset matches in the opening round when it concerns the top seeds, but there is a nice match to look out for involving Mladenovic and Cibulkova.
The talented Frenchwoman is 0/2 in 2016 after back to back defeats to compatriots- she will be happy to see a Slovakian on the other side of the net. Cibulkova on the other hand has started the season well and is a former finalist at the Australian Open.
The Slovakian leads 5-0 in the head to head which is rather surprising. This one should be a lot closer than their previous meetings and It is possible that the seeded player could make an early exit.
(14) Belinda Bencic vs Alison Riske
60 places separate these two so if the American was to win this match it would be considered quite an upset.
In the WTA, anything is possible. Bencic is a much improved player since their last and only meeting in 2014 where Riske won in straight sets. However the Swiss lady has not looked at he best in the warm up events and there is a lingering chance of an upset.
That would require the world number 74 to bring her best tennis to the court, but big matches can often bring out the best in a lot of players. Bencic is the likely winner but it could be a close match.#
(17) Sara Errani vs Margarita Gasparyan
Errani is a very consistent retriever and a former grand slam finalist, however her gamestyle lets you play. It will be a good chance for the young Gasparyan to show her talents even if she does end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The Italian is not as versed on hard courts as she is on clay, but she is not a player you can ever sleep on. The Russian will have to be game if she is to win the match, but it is winnable for her and a chance to claim a good scalp and make a good run.
The world number one has been dealt with a fairly tough draw in her path towards the title. Giorgi is not the type of player you want to play first that’s for sure. From there it get’s a little more predictable with Anna Schmiedlova the projected round three opponent for the world number one. Schmiedlova is a solid player, particularly on clay, but unless Serena has a nightmare then the Slovakian will likely be brushed aside. The fourth round may see her face good friend Caroline Wozniacki. The draw to the round of 16 has been kind to the Dane and she will be majorly disappointed if she does not make it this far. Given the 10-1 head to head it is difficult to see Serena not making it through this match and through this section. Unless he has a real off day somewhere there is not a player after round one that could realistically match the power of the top seed.Embed from Getty Images
It is not a familiar sight seeing Sharapova next to the number five, but Radwanska’s good form has knocked the Russian from the fourth seeding. Her reward?- Drawn in a quarter with the woman she has not beaten in over a decade. Her path to the potential clash with Serena is not an easy one either. Nao Hibino should be a comfortable opener, as should round two, but the third round potentially against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is a tricky one. It does not get any easier with the possibility of Bencic waiting in round four which could be a classic match. But Riske followed by possibly Heather Watson then Svetlana Kuznetsova is not exactly a good draw either. Bencic vs Sharapova is the safe bet and the Russian making it to the quarter finals is safer still, but there are banana skins.Embed from Getty Images
If Radwanska had not made the Shenzhen open final then she would have been drawn in Serena’s quarter. With her victory in the Chinese event, the Pole has taken the fourth seed and has been drawn with a potentially injured Kvitova instead. Radwanska will play America’s Christina McHale in the opening round- not the easiest of draws but one she will be expected to win. That could lead to quite the round two clash against a rejuvenated Eugenie Bouchard who is looking more like her 2014 self in the early parts of the season. Sam Stosur is projected in round three but the Aussie has had issues playing in front of a home crowd. The round of 16 will likely feature either Roberta Vinci or an in form Sloane Stephens. Either one is a huge test for whoever they play and could upset the number four seed. Vinci of course is now famous for denying Serena a calendar year grand slam at the US Open.
Kvitova was forced to withdraw early in Shenzhen, then did not compete at all in her Sydney title defence. It leaves you wondering whether she is 100% ready for the Australian Open. The Czech is unpreditable at the best of times and if bad Petra shows up then she could be heading for an early exit. Round two is where the first test will likely come against Australia’s Daria Gavrilova. She is a rising talent in the WTA and will be pumped up to play in front of the home crowd. She is coming off victory with Nick Kyrgios at the Homan Cup. Round three will not get any easier with either Mladenovic or Cibulkova likely opponents. Carla Suarez Navarro might be the biggest beneficiary if Kvitova is not up to standard. The Spaniard has a fairly comfortable ride to the third round where she will face Andrea Petkovic. She could be the one that emerges to face Radwanska in the quarter finals.Embed from Getty Images
After an impressive 2015 there is a lot of hype and expectation surrounding Muguruza, and this is a tournament you would expect her to do well in. She has had good results in Melbourne before and the courts seem to fit her game nicely. The opening two rounds seem fairly simple for the third seed, but it is in the round of 32 where things could get messy. Caroline Garcia is the projected seed, the talent Frenchwoman is unpredictable but she has a big game and matches up well with the Spaniard. But if she manages to get past the 32nd seed then she will meet a resurgent Victoria Azarenka who is fresh off winning the Brisbane title. This colossal round four match will could decide the finalist so keep an eye out for this one. The former two time champion must first make her way through a difficult third round against Elina Svitolina, but the Belarusian should match up well with the 20 year old.
Kerber could not translate her Premier level success into the grand slams in 2015, but her draw to the quarter finals here looks fairly promising. Barring a huge upset, Irina Begu will be her toughest challenge en route to round four where she projected to face Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss however has not made the best of starts to the year and could be upset potential in the early rounds. Jelena Jankovic therefore might be the favourite to meet the German in the round of 16. With Muguruza or Azarenka likely for the quarter finals however, it is hard seeing either player progressing any further than the last eight.Embed from Getty Images
Halep is still searching for her first grand slam title and she will feel that 2016 might just be her year. Her grand slam season opens pretty nicely with a qualifier then either Alize Cornet or Bojana Jovanovski. The third round against Lesia Tsurenko could be tricky but it is a match that Halep should win fairly comfortably. The fourth round is where things get interesting with Madison Keys or Ana Ivanovic likely to await the Romanian. Keys has a potential banana skin round two against Tsvetana Pironkova or Yaroslava Shvedova- both can be dangerous on their day. Ivanovic’s path to the third round is a little easier but nothing she should take for granted. Jarmila Wolfe could pose a test in front of her home crowd in round two. Halep is likely to make it out of this section but Keys and Ivanovic are more than capable of causing an upset.Embed from Getty Images
Venus Williams’ resurgence was one of the many stories that gripped us in 2015. The 35 looks like a genuine contender for the big events again, even if she did lose her only match of the season thus far. Joanna Konta was another player who made headlines in 2015 but has made a poor start to 2016. The Brit is capable of an upset if she can perform to her summer 2015 level, but Venus likely prevails. In fact it is a fairly packed section with the ever dangerous Sabine Lisicki projected for round three. The German however is never a safe bet and could be dumped out early be Petra Cetkovska, Bethanie Mattek-Sands or Denisa Allertova. Karolina Pliskova was another name who played well but failed to make a deep run at a grand slam in 2015. However this could be the time she can finally make in roads at grand slam level. The Czech should make it to Ekaterina Makarova in round three at the very least. The winner likely plays Venus in round four- what a match that could be. Halep is the favourite to make it out of this quarter, but as you see there are many players who could trip her up.Embed from Getty Images
Round of 32:
Serena def. Schmiedlova
Wozniacki def. Gasparyan
Bencic def. Kuznetsova
Sharapova def. Pavlyuchenkova
Radwanska def. Stosur
Stephens def. Vinci
Suarez Navarro def. Petkovic
Cibulkova def. Gavrilova
Kerber def. Begu
Jankovic def. Bacsinszky
Azarenka def. Svitolina
Garcia def. Muguruza
Venus def. Lisicki
Pliskova def. Makarova
Ivanovic def. Keys
Halep def. Tsurenko
Some early upsets include Kvitova losing round two Gavrilova, Gasparyan defeating Errani in round one, and Garcia defeating Muguruza in round three.Embed from Getty Images
Round of 16:
Serena def. Wozniacki
Sharapova def. Bencic
Radwanska def. Stephens
Suarez Navarro def. Cibulkova
Kerber def. Jankovic
Azarenka def. Garcia
Pliskova def. Venus
Halep def. Ivanovic
Not many upsets to happen in round four. The most surprising result might be Pliskova defeating Venus.Embed from Getty Images
Serena def. Sharapova
Radwanska def. Suarez Navarro
Azarenka def. Kerber
Halep def. Pliskova
Again, going with what is expected should these matches come to pass.
Serena def. Radwanska
Azarenka def. Halep
If Azarenka is truly back, then she will likely make the final here. The Belarusian love these courts as evident with her two victories here. Serena will win the other semi final.Embed from Getty Images
Serena def. Azarenka
But it won’t be enough to defeat the world number one who finally matches Steffi Graf’s record.Embed from Getty Images
Brava Flavia! @Flavia_Pennetta Retires as Queen of Queens
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
Flavia Pennetta has called her tennis career to a close after the Italian won her maiden grand slam title after a straight sets victory over compatriot Roberta Vinci.
For all the pre-tournament hype about Serena possibly completing the calendar year grand slam, it was another piece of history that was created.
After upset victories for Pennetta over Halep and Vinci over Serena, little Italy would have two representatives in a grand slam final- A first.
After a first week that saw big names crash out early, the second week would provide similar drama. Pennetta put in a class display of tennis to shock seconded seeded Halep in a rain delayed semi-final, whilst Vinci broke the hearts of Serena fans across the globe with a three sets win over the defending champion.
The 26th seeded Pennetta went into women’s final on Saturday as the favourite, and she lived up to that tag early. After failing to convert five break points at 2-2, she finally got it done with the sixth attempt.
The lead lasted all of two games as Vinci was able to break back to level the score. There was nothing to separate the Italian pair in the opening set, so a tiebreak was needed. Vinci had experienced grand slam success in doubles with Sara Errani but found singles to a whole different kettle of fish. It would be the 26th seed who would claim the breaker 7-4 and take a big step towards taking home the crown.
With the nerves out of the way and wind behind her sails, Pennetta was on fire in the second set, winning the first four games. But with victory in sight she allowed one break back to Vinci who was fighting for her survival.
But Pennetta would hold strong with her nerve, and whilst serving to stay in the match Vinci would eventually cecum to the pressure. A love break would seal it for Pennetta who realised she achieved her dream of being a grand slam champion.
“I never think to be so far. I never think to be a champion…It’s a dream come true.” Said an emotional Pennetta.
Despite the joy of the Italian claiming her maiden slam, tennis was hit the sad news that she would be hanging up the racket, following in the footsteps of Marion Bartoli who retired after winning Wimbledon two years ago.
“Before I started this tournament one month ago, I took a big decision in my life. This is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis.” Added the Champion. “I want to thank everyone who helped me throughout my career, all my coaches, my family – they couldn’t come, but I know they’re going to be really happy and proud of me … thank you for everything, you gave me a lot of emotion and I love you guys.”
Despite the sadness of perhaps not seeing Pennetta play again, this is a spectacular way to bow out and could start a change of the tide on the WTA tour.
Serena will have to wait until next year to start her quest for title #22 and another calendar year grand slam quest, but the rise of the two Italians could inspire confidence in the rest of the tour to step up on the big occasions.
To put it simply, we have got some very interesting times ahead.
2015 US Open Women’s Preview, Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
We have reached the Big Apple for the final grand slam of the year, the US Open. All the focus heading into Flushing Meadows is the potential of history being made. Serena Williams is chasing her 22nd grand slam title and is looking to complete the calendar year grand slam for the first time in her illustrious career.
But it would be foolish to think that this will be a one woman show. Expect the unexpected when it comes to women’s tennis as we will be treated to the drama and the upsets we have come to expect from the WTA.
Tier: Grand Slam
Location: New York, USA
Prize Money: $20,102,700
Date: August 31st- September 13th 2015
Top eight seeds (ranking):
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Simona Halep (2)
3. Maria Sharapova (3)
4. Caroline Wozniacki (4)
5. Petra Kvitova (5)
6. Lucie Safarova (6)
7. Ana Ivanovic (7)
8. Karolina Pliskova (8)
All of the top players will be taking part in the final grand slam of the year.
First round matches to watch:
(3) Maria Sharapova vs Daria Gavrilova
Third seeded Maria Sharapova will open her bid for a second US Open title by facing compatriot and youngster Daria Gavrilova in round one.
The world number three’s preparation was cut to nothing due to injury, but one thing we know about Masha is that she will give it her best. We can question whether the injury will be a factor here, but even if she is healthy, Gavrilova is not the player you want to face in the opening round. The 21-year-old is a feisty player and could catch Sharapova off guard just like she did to Lucie Safarova in Toronto.
She holds a victory over the world number three, which came on the hard courts of Miami. Sharapova avenged it in Rome a few months later leaving their head to head 1-1 but in terms of hard courts Gavrilova holds the advantage. The third seed will be favourite, but there could be potential for an upset.
(7) Ana Ivanovic vs Dominika Cibulkova
The fifth meeting between Ana Ivanovic and Dominika Cibulkova is one of the round one matches that catches the immediate eye. With their head to head balanced at 2-2, who will get their third victory in this series?
Ivanovic is looking to sustain her top eight ranking by going deep in the only grand slam she hasn’t made the semi-finals of. The Serb’s best result came in 2012 where she made the quarter finals. Ivanovic has not hit her top form since making the semi-finals of the French Open earlier in the year, but he did push Serena in Cincinnati.
Former Australian Open finalist Cibulkova is still trying to re-climb the rankings after an injury kept her out for a few months earlier in the season. Now at 58, the Slovakian is one of the more dangerous unseeded players in the draw.
Ivanovic won their previous two meetings and comes in to this one as the better player and the favourite. However, Cibulkova is certainly capable of an upset.
(29) Sloane Stephens vs Coco Vandeweghe
This battle of American youngsters will no doubt give the New York crowd plenty of action and excitement as Sloane Stephens faces Coco Vandeweghe.
After somewhat labouring through 2014 and the early part of 2015, Stephens has rediscovered some of the form that saw her break the top 20 in 2013. The 22 year old won her maiden title in Washington and made the round of 16 in Cincinnati.
Vandeweghe has struggled with her form since making the Quarter Finals of Wimbledon. In fact she has only won one singles match since that breakthrough grand slam performance at SW19. With her big serve and powerful ground strokes, the 23 year old’s game should suit the US Open hard courts.
Stephens won their most recent meeting in Strasbourg but overall the head to head reads 2-1 in favour of Vandeweghe, albeit them results are from 2012 and 2010. Sloane is a much better player now and will be the favourite, but either way should satisfy the home crowd.
(6) Lucie Safarova vs Lesia Tsurenko
In a rematch of their New Haven semi-final contest a few days prior to the event, sixth seed Lucie Safarova faces an in form Lesia Tsurenko in one of the picks of the opening round matches.
The Czech pulled through in straight sets that time around, making Tsurenko even keener to avenge that recent defeat. Safarova is not quite at French Open level just yet, but she is in decent form heading in to Flushing Meadows. Her run to the New Haven final was proceeded with a quarter final appearance in Cincinnati.
Tsurenko’s form has seen her not only win her first WTA title in Istanbul, but reach the top 50 with aims of going much further. The Ukrainian came through qualifying in Toronto to defeat Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza in straight sets and make the quarter finals. That run has been backed up by an impressive run to the semi-finals of New Haven. Certainly an unseeded player to avoid. Interestingly, these two have met before at the US Open. That came two years ago and Safarova ran out the victor in three sets. Expect a repeat in 2015 with a potential early exit for the French Open finalist.
(18) Andrea Petkovic vs Caroline Garcia
The final match of my round one picks sees 18th seed Andrea Petkovic face talented Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia. Both players’ form is hard to judge after having a rather up and down build up to the US Open. Petkovic may consider herself unlucky to draw Serena Williams and Simona Halep in consecutive weeks but her form has been quite iffy. It will be interesting to see what level she is at come the US Open.
With Garcia you never know what you are going to get. She put together impressive back to back wins against Sabine Lisicki and Petra Kvitova in Cincinnati before putting in a poor performance against Elina Svitolina. It was a repeat in New Haven, two good wins followed by an awful performance against Wozniacki. So who knows which Garcia we will see in New York.
With both players’ form hard to gage, it is a tough match to predict. Petkovic won their only previous meeting in Eastbourne, so this is their first meeting on a hard court. It will be a nice style clash which could go either way depending on which version of each player shows up.
Serena Williams will begin her quest to make history against Vitalia Diatchenko. It should not be a problem for the world number one, but round two could be very tricky if Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is on form. The Croatian defeated Simona Halep here last year and has a big game to trouble Williams. It might not get any easier in round three where she is projected to face Sloane Stephens. That is of course if she could make her way through the opening two rounds.
Another young American looking to make an impact is Madison Keys. The big hitting 19th seed has been drawn with Agnieszka Radwanska in this mini section. The 20 year old will open against Klara Koukalova who is not at her best but still dangerous. There is a potential Radwanska sibling clash in round two with Ula facing Magda Linette and Aga facing Katerina Siniakova in matches both should win. The more well-known Radwanska will be favourite for this one but strange things can happen in these sister battles. We could see an interesting round three between Keys and A.Radwanska which will provide an interesting style clash. The American will bring her big serve and power, whilst The Pole will bring her variety and counterpunching game.
Karolina Pliskova’s rise to the top 10 has been one of the stories of the season so far, but the Czech- for all her great play- has failed to make an impression at grand slam level. The 23 year old should be good enough to make the third round without much trouble- It will get more difficult from there. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is the projected third round opponent but Magdalena Rybarikova is a difficult round one for the Russian. Casey Dellacqua or Saisai Zheng will await the winner in the second round, so you would expect Pavs or Rybarikova to make round three. Pliskova will be favourite to make it to round four but there is a potential banana skin in round three.
One player who captured the attention of the tennis world heading in to the US Open was Belinda Bencic. The Swiss put together a string of amazing wins on her way to taking the Toronto title putting herself amongst the outside contenders for the title. Can she respond positively to the pressure? We will get our first look when she faces Sesil Karatancheva in the opening round before meeting the winner of Daniela Hantuchova vs Misaki Doi. Bencic could potentially meet both Williams sisters, starting with Venus in round three. The 35-year-old will face struggling Monica Puig in round one and likely to face Irina Falconi in round two. Williams struggles to grind out victories when not playing well so she must watch her back in the first two rounds. But her run likely will be ended by Bencic in round three.
Maria Sharapova had a non-existent build up to the US Open after injury kept her out of Toronto and Cincinnati. One wonders whether she will be 100% for the last grand slam of the year. Looking to take advantage of a diminished Sharapova is countrywoman Gavrilova. The 21-year-old upset the third seed in Miami so we know she is capable of producing a big result. Ana Konjuh or Tatjana Maria will be the round two opponent for the winner. Svetlana Kuznetsova is the projected opponent in the third round, but she has a tough opener against Kristina Mladenovic. A potential seed casualty there with Kuznetsova’s form very much in the question. You would expect the winner to make the third round with Bojana Jovanovski or Lara Arruabarrena. Sharapova has some tricky roadblocks in this section and it will be hard to gage how well she will do with the lingering injury.
It is a Russian heavy section of the draw with Ekaterina Makarova finding herself amongst her three compatriots in this section. Teliana Pereira will await in the first round. The Brazilian is more of a clay court specialist therefore making it difficult to look past the 13th seed here. Heather Watson or Lauren Davis could both provide a tough test in the second round but you would expect Makarova to make round three at least. Amidst the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, we could see the border clash make its way over to tennis with Elina Svitolina the likely round three opponent of Makarova. Albiet this conflict will be tamer. Svitolina should make her way through the first two rounds with Kaia Kanepi looking like the most dangerous opponent. Svitolina vs Makarova will be an interesting style clash and do not be surprised to see the lower seed advancing. The Ukrainian is in very good form after reaching the semi-finals of Cincinnati.
Ana Ivanovic’s blood pressure should be fine after seeing the draw for her section at the US Open. She is in a possibly injured Sharapova’s quarter and has a few out of form seeds in there too- this could get messy. Dominika Cilbulkova will no doubt raise the Serb’s temperature, but if Ivanovic is serious about making a deep run, she should come through that match. Alison Van Uytvank- who has done nothing of note since Roland Garros- will likely await in round two. The seventh seed got the lucky draw of a slumping Bouchard as the projected round three opponent. You can’t project anything with the Canadian at the moment however, she has struggled since the Australian Open. Alison Riske will look to take advantage of that in round one. Polona Hercog or Zarina Diyas (who did well at Wimbledon) will await in round two. Anything but Ivanovic making it out of this section will be a surprise.
Whilst we are on the topic of out of form players, Carla Suarez Navarro is another candidate for an early exit. The Spaniard has struggled since clay season, barely being able to win matches. Such a shame for her after a very solid start to 2015 that saw her break top 10. Denisa Allertova is a should win match, but Roberta Vinci will provide problems in round two. The Italian has shown good form over the summer hard court season. Jelena Jankovic will probably await in round three as she has a very good draw before the third round.
Despite mono and a lack of form, Petra Kvitova managed to defend her New Haven title putting her in good stead heading in to a grand slam she has traditionally struggled in. The Czech has a fairly good section to play her way in to the tournament here. Laura Siegemund in round one will be followed by the winner of Nicole Gibbs vs Lourdes Dominguez Lino in the second round- Both of which the fifth seed should win. Anna Schmiedlova’s steady ranking progression has seen her seeded for a grand slam for the first time. As the 32nd seed she will look to take advantage of avoiding the top players before the third round. She faces Julia Goerges in a tough but passable first round. The winner will face the victor of the Balkan battle between Danka Kovinic and Aleksandra Krunic. Kvitova will likely be a bridge too far for Schmiedlova, though Petra is certainly capable of some shocking performances. The Slovak has the consistency to take advantage.
Garbine Muguruza has been in a bit of a rut since making the Wimbledon final. The Spaniard has lost 4/4 sets to players ranked outside the top 50, and news has recently broke about her splitting with long-time coach Alejo Mancisidor–strange decision given the timing. Carina Witthoeft must not be overlooked in the first round, though Muguruza has a habit of bringing her best to the big events. She could face Johanna Konta again in round two. The Brit is riding a 13-match winning streak and defeated the Spaniard in Eastbourne. Can Konta repeat that feat in New York? Andrea Petkovic and Caroline Garcia may look at this news as a blessing. The winner of that opener will fancy themselves to make round four here with Muguruza’s questionable form. Petkovic will be the favourite, though Garcia, then Laura Robson or Elena Vesnina will provide some tough challenges.
The Great Dane is still searching for the big grand slam breakthrough her career has lacked thus far. A finalist last year, Wozniacki knows how to get around these courts. Can she translate that in to grand slam success? The fourth seed opens up against wildcard Jamie Loeb in a match she should progress in. In round two it will either be Christina McHale or Petra Cetovska- again Wozniacki should prevail. Round three is where it gets interesting with Flavia Pennetta potentially waiting in the wings. The Italian has not lived up to her 2014 but is still dangerous opposition at this stage of a slam. The 26th seed has a fairly easy draw to the third round with Jarmila Gadjosova and Monica Niculescu being her likely first two opponents. Wozniacki should make it through this section, but Pennetta could push her in the final 32.
Sara Errani secured a top 16 seeding with a good run in Toronto, and now the Italian will begin her quest to re-enter the top 10 at the US Open. She has been drawn with 2011 champion Sam Stosur in her section with a potentially interesting round three meeting between those two on the cards. Errani will face Mayo Hibi in round one, then likely Annika Beck in the second round. Stosur faces Timea Babos before meeting the winner of Rodina-Mrdeza. I believe Stosur’s previous experience at this event will allow her to advance from this section.
Lucie Safarova will look to top off a good year in the grand slams by making another deep run, only this time in New York. The sixth seed has drawn dangerous floater Lesia Tsurenko in round one, a player she defeated in New Haven the week prior to this event. The winner gets either Varvara Lepchenko or Kirsten Flipkens in round two. You would believe that the winner of Safarova-Tsurenko will make round three here given their respective forms. There they could face Irina Begu who is the other seed in the section. The Romanian however has a tough test I the form of Olga Govortsova in round one, and should she survive they first round, the next opponent will not be any easier. Mona Barthel vs Tsvetana Pironkova is a good looking match between two unseeded players, both of which will fancy their chances of round three.
Angelique Kerber has had the misfortune of getting the ‘Azarenka draw’ making this section one of the most mouth-watering of the lot. Barring a big upset or two, we should see this round three clash that most tennis fans undoubtedly want. Of course there are a few players who will no doubt be looking to spoil the party, not least Karin Knapp who on paper seems to have the best shot in stopping this meeting. Should we get the Azarenka-Kerber match the Belarusian will be favourite despite the seedings. Kerber has never defeated Azarenka in four attempts.
Simona Halep is still bidding for the elusive grand slam title to add to her collection of trophies. It will start with Marina Erakovic before facing the winner of Kateryna Bondarenko vs Yulia Putintseva in what should be simple enough wins for the second seed. The third round could be tricky with Alize Cornet possibly awaiting the Romanian. The Frenchwoman for whatever reason seems to bring her A-game to these sort of matches. She has defeated Serena and she got a victory over Halep in Madrid too. Cornet will face Kurumi Nara in the first round before possibly moving on to face Sachia Vickery or Shelby Rogers in the second round. Can Cornet spring another surprise against the world number two?
Timea Bacsinszky’s momentum has gone off the rails since Wimbledon and the Swiss has struggled to get wins under her belt in the build up to the tournament. The comeback story is one of the better tales of the 2015 season, but she needs to re-find that early season form. Barbora Strycova is a testing round one despite the Czech not enjoying her 2014 levels of success. The winner should make the third round. Sabine Lisicki (surprisingly not the Wimbledon woman this season) is the other seed in this section. The German has overall performed very well on American hard courts this year. The 24th seed should make it past her qualifier opponent in round one before meeting Camila Giorgi in round two. This one could be interesting with both players known for their power. They will fancy their chances of making the fourth round with Bascinszky out of form.
Round of 16:
Serena def. Radwanska
Bencic def. Pliskova
Sharapova def. Svitolina
Ivanovic def. Jankovic
Kvitova def. Petkovic
Wozniacki def. Stosur
Azarenka def. Safarova
Halep def. Lisicki
I can’t see Radwanska troubling the world number one on these courts. Bencic will carry her momentum into the US open to defeat Pliskova and set up a rematch with Serena. Sharapova’s place in the quarter final is questionable due to her fitness but I am going to presume she will be fine to compete. Ivanovic should take advantage of a good draw to make the quarter finals.
Kvitova’s form in New Haven has given me confidence that she will make the quarter finals here, beating Petkovic. Wozniacki’s defence will be too much for Stosur to create a New Haven rematch against Kvitova. Azarenka likes these courts so I feel she will beat Safarova to set up a quarter final against Halep. The Romanian will defeat a Lisicki who takes advantage of Bacsinszky’s bad form.
Serena def. Bencic
Ivanovic def. Sharapova
Wozniacki def. Kvitova
Halep def. Azarenka
It would be an incredible story if Bencic was able to shock Serena yet again, but this is a grand slam so I see the world number one prevailing this time. Again, Sharapova’s injury could hamper her progress here so I am going with Ivanovic to make it through that quarter. Kvitova defeated Wozniacki in New haven, but I feel a mix of fatigue and Caro liking these courts will allow the Dane to advance this time. Azarenka is not the player that made the final here anymore, so I feel Halep will prevail in that one.
Serena def. Ivanovic
Halep def. Wozniacki
Ivanovic has tested Serena numerous times over recent years and could do so again here. But it is hard seeing the world number one losing at this stage of a grand slam. Halep and Wozniacki could be a marathon, but I can’t see the Dane making back to back finals.
Embed from Getty Images
Serena def. Halep
If Serena makes it to the latter stages I don’t see her losing. It should be a historic tournament for Williams who will add to her ever growing legacy.
2014 US Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The final slam of the season has arrived. It is one of the most wide open fields for a slam in quite a while in Flushing-Queens and this tournament is well worth watching to see who will emerge and eventually prevail. Here is a preview of all the action that will take place in the first week and beyond.
New York, NY, USA
August 25-September 7, 2014
Top 8 seeds
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (3)
3: Stan Wawrinka (4)
4: David Ferrer (5)
5: Milos Raonic (6)
6: Tomas Berdych (7)
7: Grigor Dimitrov (8)
8: Andy Murray (9)
The big news is that the defending champion, and perhaps the second most feared player in the draw, Rafael Nadal, is not playing this year due to a wrist injury. As a result, everyone moves up a spot on the seedline and former champion Andy Murray grabs the 8th spot. Other big names out include the year-long injured former US Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro, Tommy Haas, Nicolas Almagro, Alex Dolgopolov, and last among top 50 players, Florian Mayer.
1st round matchups to watch:
(28)Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Rendy Lu
Two streaky players, who if on, are dangerous, the creative shotmaker Garcia-Lopez has momentum coming off the quarterfinals in Winston-Salem, while the baseline backboarder Lu has similar momentum by virtue of making the semis at the same event. Both players have toppled some big names this year: GGL has wins over Gael Monfils, Tomas Berdych, Alex Dolgopolov and most notably Stan Wawrinka. Lu beat Berdych in Cincinnati and also beat David Ferrer on a hard court in Auckland, as he earns his living on the concrete. Lu won their only hard court meeting in 2009 and I’d tip him as a slight favorite as long as he isn’t worn out from a 3 set semifinal loss in Winston-Salem.
(3)Stan Wawrinka vs. Jiri Vesely
Wawrinka has fared relatively poorly given his high seeding at the two hard court Masters events this summer. He was booted in this third match in Cincinnati and his second in Toronto, both by players ranked outside the top 20 (Julien Benneteau and Kevin Anderson). Thus, his sub-par results on hard courts after his Aussie Open triumph and his sometimes loss of focus in matches suggests he should be on upset alert against the young Czech Vesely, who has a big game, and is looking for a marquee win to establish himself further on the ATP tour. All that said, Vesely has had far superior results on clay than on hard courts this season, and because of that I’m still relatively comfortable saying Stan the Man will advance given the surface.
(21)Mikhail Youzhny vs. Nick Kyrgios
This match will be a big test for Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios. He has already made his breakthrough onto the ATP tour, and as a result he did not need a wild card to participate in the main draw here. However, he will have to face Youzhny, who is a two time semifinalist at the US Open and was a quarterfinalist last year. Even though he hasn’t played well this season, he does have a tendency to rise to the occasion in New York and this is their first meeting. It’s a hard match to pick, and Kyrgios is still going to have some growing pains but I’ve been bullish on the young Aussie for quite some time and I’m not backing off him now given his comparable showings in the US Open Series this summer. It will likely go five sets but I think Nick advances to the next round.
Pablo Andujar vs. Jack Sock
Sock had a strong start to his summer season home soil with consecutive semis in Newport and Atlanta, but he has cooled off since then and didn’t get past the second round in DC, Toronto, or Cincy. That said, a pair of losses to Milos Raonic, and a loss to eventual semifinalist Tommy Robredo in Cincy, doesn’t look that bad in hindsight and he could yet again find a hot streak at the US Open. Standing in his way is “Picasso” Andujar who primarily prefers clay and only has two hard court wins this season. That said, he’s not entirely a pushover and Sock will have to work win this best of 5 sets match. It could be a good tournament for the young American but he must begin with a solid result.
(29)Lukas Rosol vs. Borna Coric
Winston-Salem champ Rosol played some excellent tennis this past week, but he may be in trouble against the young qualifier Coric, a rising Croat who should approach this match trying to wear down a likely tired Rosol. Coric’s qualifying wins over Stefan Kozlov and Jimmy Wang are very credible and the 17 year old also has a quarterfinal in Umag on clay, and a Davis Cup win on indoor hard against Jerzy Janowicz that speaks to his hype. Rosol, if he can rest up enough, is favored, but I’m going out on a limb and picking Coric to get to the second round.
(6)Tomas Berdych vs. Lleyton Hewitt
It could very well be the last rodeo in New York for the former US Open champion Hewitt, who has been struggling for most of this season, and should be a somewhat sizable underdog against Berdych, a former semifinalist at the US Open. That said, Berdych is struggling and is just 2-3 in the US Open series, he has proven vulnerable to the upset, and Hewitt may just have enough fight and skill left in him for one last top 10 win in New York. I’m not picking it myself, but the opportunity exists.
(19)Feliciano Lopez vs. Ivan Dodig
I have a feeling this will be an under-appreciated match between two steady but not elite players. Lopez has been very streaky this season and he recently reached the semis in Toronto with two very notable wins over Milos Raonic and Berdych. Dodig had a good win over John Isner in Toronto, coming back from injury, and his loss to Ernests Gulbis in Cincy was in two tiebreaks. They have never met on hard courts but Dodig won on clay this season, and Lopez is the favorite I would think, given recent form. Dodig’s serve should keep him in this hard court match, but I have Lopez sneaking it out, and this match has five sets written all over it.
(14)Marin Cilic vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Cilic can’t be happy. He has improved his ranking up to being a top 15 seed, but even still, he drew an in-form and experienced player like Baghdatis as his round 1 opponent. Under the radar, Baghdatis won a pair of hard court challengers this summer and he is on a 10 match winning streak. On top of that, he has beaten Cilic twice in his career, both times on hard courts. Cilic has won their last two meetings though, which includes their most recent hard court meeting and he went 4-2 on the US Open series this summer with losses to Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer, neither of which were unexpected. Cilic should advance but don’t be surprised if this one goes four or five sets before Baghdatis lack of stamina will likely give way to Cilic.
Federico Delbonis vs. (WC)Noah Rubin
Kalamazoo junior champ, and as a result, US Open wild card recipient Noah Rubin, a NY/NJ metro area local star, has an excellent chance to win his first career grand slam main draw match at the senior level against Delbonis. The Argentine is a clay courter and he has only won one match on hard courts this season (1-7 record). Rubin will need to adjust to the learning curve quickly, but he is unlikely to get blown out at a minimum in this one. It will be interesting to see what the McEnroe-backed young gun can do.
Bernard Tomic vs. Dustin Brown
Another under-the-radar match. Tomic is 10-3 in tournament matches since Wimbledon, qualified in both Toronto and Cincy, along with the title in Bogota, and is looking to re-earn his credibility as a future star. In order to do so, he will need to win matches like this one against the big serving and streaky Dustin Brown, who is 9-5 overall on hard courts this season, but plays challengers as much as he does ATP. Tomic should advance, but Brown is a good early test of his form to see if he can surprise some people this year at the USO.
*Third round participant predictions are in bold
Novak, who has struggled to adjust after his Wimbledon triumph, suffering two shocking early losses in Toronto and Cincy, will look to regroup and win his second US Open title. He opens with Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in a match that should feature baked goods, given the Argentine would much prefer to be playing on clay, and he is more likely to get at least something resembling a competitive match against the winner of Gilles Muller/Paul-Henri Mathieu in round 2. Muller has been red hot on the challenger circuit all season, but he has taken a few weeks off, and though he has a big serve, I doubt he will challenge the excellent returner Djokovic, PHM likewise shouldn’t cause Novak much grief. Djokovic is likely to face an in-form player in the third round, as Winston-Salem semifinalist Sam Querrey is in his section, opening with Maximo Gonzalez, along with Garcia-Lopez/Lu. It’s understandable to think Novak may be vulnerable right now, but Querrey lacks the mental fortitude, Lu lacks the weapons, and Garcia-Lopez lacks the consistency needed to get a massive upset and upend the draw, so Novak should get through to the second week, perhaps without dropping a set.
13 seed and top American John Isner is nursing an ankle injury, as he continues to be unable to stay healthy, and as a result of that, even if he does participate it appears unlikely he will make a deep run even with a favorable draw. He opens with qualifier Marcos Giron of UCLA, and if he gets through that, he faces the winner of Mikhail Kukushkin/JL Struff. In the second round, it’s possible he will renew his rivalry with Philipp Kohlschreiber. In the third round for the third consecutive US Open, Kohli has to beat qualifier Facundo Bagnis in round 1, who is a fighter, and also the Michael Llodra/Daniel Gimeno-Traver winner.
Llodra is playing his final US Open and was given a wild card as a result. His silky smooth serve and volleying style will be missed on tour. Kohli is just 1-3 in his last four matches and has not had a strong season but the weak draw and an injured Isner should allow him to reach the second week. In the third round of the US Open in both 2012 and 2013, he knocked out Isner in five and four sets respectively in memorable matches.
Former US Open champ Andy Murray will be looking to, in some ways, salvage his season with a strong run at the US Open this year. He opens with Robin Haase, who he has played in the early round of Grand Slams twice before (2011 USO round 2 and 2013 AO round 1) and I expect him to have little trouble before a possible third round meeting with Fernando Verdasco. Radek Stepanek/Mathias Bachinger is his slated round 2 opponent and given Bachinger, a qualifier, favors clay, and Stepanek has lost 4 straight matches on hard court surfaces, Murray should get to the third round without dropping a set. It is fair to note Stepanek beat Murray at London Queens this year but Murray dominates the h2h otherwise. The 31 seed Verdasco played just two matches on hard courts this summer, as he fell in round 2 of Cincy, and he opens with the steadily improving Blaz Rola who has a below .500 record at the ATP/Grand Slam level this season. Look for Verdasco to find form and beat both Rola and Andrey Kuznetsov/Bradley Klahn to set up a meeting with Murray. Kuznetsov has some talent but he hasn’t prepared for hard courts this summer. Murray has only lost to Verdasco twice, and hasn’t lost to him since he was at his peak level in 2009, while winning many more head to head meetings, thus Andy should get himself into week 2.
One of the most watched players this US Open will be Toronto champ Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after falling by the wayside for months, Tsonga put himself back in the conversation about US Open contenders with top quality play in Toronto that was a flashback to previous big showings for the Frenchman. He’s seeded 9th and his path to week 2 begins with the, frankly, washed up Juan Monaco, and then the winner of James McGee/Alexandr Nedovyesov. McGee is one of the nicest guys in pro tennis and he’s finally getting to make his grand slam main draw debut in New York. His qualification run is a big step for him personally, and for Irish tennis as a whole, and it’s great to see him doing so well. Tsonga should cruise through to round 3 without dropping a set, and if he can stay healthy, always a big question mark with him, he should setup a meeting with Julien Benneteau, his countryman, at that stage. Benny was a surprise semifinalist in Cincy and he has a win at IW over Tsonga this season. Though he clearly has talent left to display, Tsonga should still make the second week, and a dark horse run by Benneteau is likely to be averted. Benny first must beat his erratic countryman Benoit Paire and the Andreas Beck/Pablo Carreno Busta winner in the first two rounds.
Wawrinka/Vesely will face Thomaz Bellucci/Nicolas Mahut in round 2. Mahut played some quality tennis in Winston-Salem which included a win over Cincy semifinalist Tommy Robredo, but Wawrinka should get to the third round. It is notable that Wawrinka can’t afford to overlook Mahut, as the Frenchman has won both their head to head meetings. Wawrinka is likely to face Donald Young in the third round, but the American must first defeat Blaz Kavcic and Jeremy Chardy/Alejandro Falla. All four players have a case for the third round, but the Young/Chardy winner should be the deciding contest. Chardy has a lone hard court win over Young, but he is in questionable form. Young beat Wawrinka in five sets at the 2011 US Open, and I’m sure he’d love to do so again but his form honestly doesn’t indicate to me he is in the place to do that right now, and I have Wawrinka making the second week, probably dropping multiple sets en route.
The section below Wawrinka is stacked, as the Kyrgios/Youzhny winner will face Sergiy Stakhovsky/Andreas Seppi, and then likely Tommy Robredo/Vasek Pospisil in round 3. Pospisil, a finalist in DC, has hard court credentials, but he’s been inconsistent all year, while Robredo always seems to rise to the occasion for the Grand Slams and he had that shock run in Cincy after a ho-hum season overall. Robredo opens with Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and Pospisil opens with Simone Bolelli in round 1. I tend to believe Pospisil is rounding into form and I’m making a judgement call and picking him over Robredo to reach the third round. It could easily go the other way, though. Kyrgios vs. Pospisil would be a thrilling third round encounter, and in my own bracket I have Pospisil making the second week. Really, any of the likely third round matchups in this section look to be quality.
Another much talked about player is DC champ, Toronto quarterfinalist and Cincy semifinalist Milos Raonic, who won the US Open series this season. Milos, like Tsonga, is considered an outside favorite to win the title, and his early path runs through qualifier Taro Daniel, who will be playing in front of a home New York crowd, and the Peter Gojowczyk/Benjamin Becker winner. The big serving Becker has had USO success before, and he’s having an excellent season by his standards. However, the rested Raonic should outserve them all en route to the third round and then the Manitoba Missile should grab a win over Coric/Rosol or Igor Sijsling/Victor Estrella. Kei Nishikori, the 10 seed, who hasn’t played since DC, is his most likely opponent in the round of 16. Nishikori will need wins over USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge winner Wayne Odesnik, and Sock/Andujar to reach the third round. Sock perhaps could find form and do the same. Sock/Nishikori should be strong favorites against one of Leo Mayer/Albert Montanes/Tobias Kamke/Matt Ebden in round 3 though, in what is perhaps the weakest section of the draw.
After facing the undersized Damir Dzumhur, Cincy finalist and two time US Open semifinalist David Ferrer could be in trouble against the winner of Tomic/Brown in round 2. That said, Ferrer is 2-0 against both Brown and Tomic, and thus is still likely to advance, even on upset alert. In round 3, Gilles Simon is Ferrer/Tomic/Brown’s most likely opponent. The 26 seed has not had a good season and is below .500 on hard courts this year, but he faces qualifier Radu Albot and the Delbonis/Rubin winner for his first two matches, thus a forgiving draw should allow him to get through. If Rubin can exceed the hype, perhaps he could make the third round. Ferrer should blow through whoever he faces in the third round regardless and book himself a place in the second week. At least, that is how I have it my draw. I have Tomic/Brown doing the same for what it’s worth.
Cilic/Baghdatis will face a qualifier, either Ilya Marchenko or Marco Chiudinelli in round 2, and I’d expect Cilic to get through to the third round where he should face off with Kevin Anderson. Jerzy Janowicz, who has finally found his form these past couple of weeks after a miserable 2014, is in this section, but coming off a grueling and disappointing Winston-Salem final, he should only be rested enough to get past Dusan Lajovic in round 1 before falling to the fresher Anderson, who plays somewhat similar, and was a quarterfinalist in both DC and Toronto. Anderson seems to be struggling mentally at the moment but Pablo Cuevas in round 1 and the Janowicz/Lajovic should be contests that allow him to find his game again. Cilic has a win over Anderson in Delray Beach this season and I think he will get his second win over the South African number one this year at the US Open, booking himself a spot in week 2.
Berdych/Hewitt will face Martin Klizan/Steve Darcis in round 2. The Belgian shark qualified and did so in under-the-radar fashion. Berdych is 2-0 against Klizan and should get through to the third round to face the winner of Santiago Giraldo/Alex Kudryavtsev. Giraldo has had a strong season, but he has struggled this summer and he opens with the slumping Teymuraz Gabashvili, while the qualifier Kudryavtsev will face his countryman Evgeny Donskoy. That round 1 meeting could go either way but Alex has the h2h edge. I expect a Giraldo/Berdych third round contest. It would be their first h2h meeting, and Giraldo could make it a battle, but Berdych is still most likely to make the second week.
Lopez/Dodig will face Steve Johnson or qualifier Tatsuma Ito in round 2. This is a hard to predict section given Johnson has a h2h win over Lopez in Delray this season, and both players have shown good form. Steve has cooled off a bit since reaching the quarters in DC and the third round in Cincy, but he’s still having a career year. Forced to choose, I’m going with Lopez, the veteran, into the third round to face Ernests Gulbis, the 11 seed. Gulbis opens with the last direct entrant, Kenny De Schepper, in round 1, and then Dominic Thiem/Lukas Lacko in round 2. Thiem and Gulbis are close friends and they share coaching teams, along with being hitting partners. Gulbis has a lone win in qualies 2 years ago in Winston-Salem over Thiem, but the young Austrian is much improved since then and much more experienced. That said, he’s out of form having lost three straight matches and though I have him beating Lacko in what should be a competitive match, I don’t think he will trouble Gulbis, who is entering the US Open quietly this time.
Federer, The Cincy and Toronto champion, who has dominated this summer with Nadal absent and Djokovic MIA, is a co-favorite for the US Open title this go around. He will open with Marinko Matosevic, who is a somewhat challenging round 1 opponent, but regardless he should get through to round 2 against Sam Groth/Albert Ramos. The big serving Groth is also unlikely to take a set off the Swiss Maestro and look for Federer to perhaps meet Ivo Karlovic in the third round. Karlovic is struggling, and Federer beat him in Miami this season, his fifth win in a row over one of the best servers of all time. Karlovic’s path to round 3 runs through Jarkko Nieminen and Marcel Granollers/Jurgen Melzer. This section has four very experienced, but out of form players in Karlovic, Nieminen, Granollers and Melzer. All of them have the credentials to reach the third round, and Nieminen showed a bit of a boost in form in Winston-Salem. It’s nearly impossible that I’ll get this perfectly accurate, but in my own bracket I have Nieminen upsetting Karlovic against the odds, Melzer surviving Granollers given the surface, and then Nieminen dispatching Melzer. Federer should reach the second week without dropping a set, or perhaps playing one four set contest in three matches.
Cincy quarterfinalist and 15 seed Fabio Fognini opens with Andrey Golubev and then should face the Pere Riba/Adrian Mannarino winner. Given the weak draw, Fognini should reach the third round, even while being inconsistent and combustible. His first real test of the tournament should come against Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA will face dirtballer Andreas Haider-Maurer and then Tim Smyczek/Filip Krajinovic in round 2. Krajinovic qualified and Smyczek is a competitive hard court player so that match is a bit of a toss-up. Regardless, RBA is superior in terms of talent and even though he hasn’t been exceptional lately he still should get through. RBA/Fognini is a really hard contest to pick. They have met a bunch of times and have a split h2h this season on clay. They also have split outdoor hard court meetings overall and Fognini beat RBA in Miami this season. I see that match going five sets, and even though his form has been poor, I think RBA is more consistent over five sets compared to Fognini and I have the Spaniard into week 2.
7 seed Grigor Dimitrov, a semifinalist in Toronto, and another much talked player outside of the top 4 seeds, will open with Ryan Harrison just like he did at Wimbledon this year. Harrison injured himself in Winston-Salem and Dimitrov should cruise through to face Dudi Sela/Carlos Berlocq. Dimitrov will need to watch out for David Goffin in round 3. The Belgian underdog went on an exceptional 20+ match win streak that was snapped in Winston-Salem at the Quarterfinals stage and he is in tremendous form at the moment. Dimitrov has 3 career wins, all in clay court challengers and futures over the Belgian, and given this is hard court, Dimitrov is still the favorite to advance, but I see Goffin taking a set. Goffin’s path to round 3 is a first round match with his countryman, qualifier Niels Desein, and then a match with the Frank Dancevic/Joao Sousa winner.
Richard Gasquet, the 12th seed, withdrew in Toronto. As a result of that, he is getting almost no attention going into the USO, even though he was a semifinalist last year, a career result for him. Gasquet opens against Denis Istomin in round 1. Istomin isn’t an easy out but Gasquet has a 3-1 h2h advantage and a win this season over the Uzbek on grass. Denis the Menace is a disappointing 2-4 this summer during the US Open Series and he is likely to bow out in round 1. An interesting contest will take place between Dmitry Tursunov, who hasn’t played a tournament match since Wimbledon, and Alejandro Gonzalez, who for a South American player is a competent hard court competitor. Tursunov is a far more accomplished player but with rust/health in question, Gonzalez should be a slight favorite to meet the winner of Gael Monfils/Jared Donaldson in round 2. Monfils lost 3 set matches to Djokovic and Federer in Toronto and Cincy, and he appears to be playing well. I expect him to roll past Gasquet/Istomin, along with Donaldson and Gonzalez/Tursunov, to reach the second week. Lastly, keep an eye on young Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, who I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this year at the Tallahassee Challenger. Yoshi is making his grand slam main draw debut, and with dirtballer Paolo Lorenzi as his maiden opponent, he has an excellent chance to improve his record to 1-0 in Grand Slam main draw matches. The winner of Nishioka/Lorenzi will face Gasquet/Istomin in round 2 and Nishioka is perhaps the most dangerous qualifier in the draw.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Julien Benneteau, Vasek Pospisil, Bernard Tomic, and Gael Monfils
Dark horses are hard to come by in the first quarter. I don’t think Benneteau will go beyond the third round, but if he does upset Tsonga he would make the fourth round. I have Pospisil in the quarters, and I’m bullish on his chances. Tomic would need to upset Ferrer and get through Cilic but he could have a shock run to the quarters or even the semis as an unseeded player, and Monfils, if he can beat Federer, would find himself in the semifinals, but that is a tough ask.
Week 1 predictions (round of 16 matchups and picks)
Djokovic d. Kohlschreiber
Tsonga d. Murray
Pospisil d. Wawrinka
Raonic d. Nishikori
Gulbis d. Berdych
Ferrer d. Cilic
Monfils d. Dimitrov
Federer d. Bautista Agut
Djokovic and Federer should have limited competition in the fourth round, Tsonga/Murray could go either way, but Tsonga just beat Murray in Toronto when Murray was ahead, and I just can’t trust Andy this season to win key matches like this. He hasn’t proven yet this year that he’s reliable and confident enough to do so. Pospisil has had horrible luck against Wawrinka. They were slated to play twice this season early in the year, but Pospisil had to retire in Chennai during the match and he had a back injury that caused him to walkover before their slated AO match. I know I’m going against the odds but I’m bullish on Vasek to reach the quarters. Raonic is in better form than Nishikori and he beat him at Wimbledon this year, Gulbis beat Berdych at the French and Tomas’s form is suspect. Ferrer/Cilic is another hard judgement call, I’m thinking Ferrer has superior mental fortitude to get over the hump. Monfils has beaten Dimitrov at the USO before and I’m bullish on his form compared to the Bulgarian.
My Full Tournament Picks
Djokovic d. Tsonga
Raonic d. Pospisil
Ferrer d. Gulbis
Federer d. Monfils
Tsonga upset Djokovic in Toronto, but I feel in a best of 5 format that Novak will come out on top. It’s a hard pick to make and it is likely to be a closer match compared to some of their previous contests. Raonic has 2 big wins over Pospisil and he should get a third, Ferrer-Gulbis is likely to be competitive but I think Ferrer survives the test. Monfils may push Federer to five, but like we saw in Cincy, he doesn’t have that extra gear right now to finish the match off.
Djokovic d. Raonic
Federer d. Ferrer
Djokovic and Federer have both dominated the h2hs and that should continue.
Federer d. Djokovic
Federer came close to winning their meeting in the Wimbledon final, and all of their contests have generally been competitive, with Novak out of form this summer, and Federer on fire, I think he will grab what may be his final slam at the USO.
2014 French Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The pinnacle of the clay court season, Roland Garros in Paris is upon us. Here is a preview of the 2014 edition of the tournament, which is more wide open than in previous years.
May 25-June 8, 2014
Prize Money: € 11,552,000
Top 8 seeds
1: Rafael Nadal
2: Novak Djokovic
3: Roger Federer
4: Stan Wawrinka
5: David Ferrer
6: Tomas Berdych
7: Andy Murray
8: Milos Raonic
Of the ATP top 50, only the long-term injured Juan Martin Del Potro and Florian Mayer are out of the tournament.
1st round matchups to watch:
Dominic Thiem vs. Paul Henri Mathieu
The new Austrian number one is making his French Open debut against the crafty veteran PHM, who will be playing in front of a partisan French crowd. PHM has a habit for five setters in Paris (8 five set matches in his career at RG). He isn’t the player he once was and he could very well push Thiem the distance. PHM isn’t in any specifically notable form, and Thiem was poor this week in Nice, losing in 3 to Gilles Simon after nearly losing to Steve Johnson in 3 in the first round. Still, Thiem is talented and he has had a super year, qualifying for enough ATP tournaments that he was able to get direct entry for RG. I expect him to advance.
(32)Andreas Seppi vs. Santiago Giraldo
Seppi is seeded but Giraldo should be the favorite in this match as he has been in super form this clay court season. In consecutive weeks, he reached the semis in Houston, the final in Barcelona and the quarterfinals in Madrid as a qualifier. He retired in the first round after qualifying in Rome, though. Seppi is just 1-3 in his last four and hasn’t done anything special this season. He’s a reliable clay court vet and he could outlast Giraldo if the Colombian’s make or break attacking style of play comes up empty. Still, I expect Santi to get through and continue his good form, as working with former RG semifinalist Fernando Gonzalez seems to be paying off for him.
(3)Stan Wawrinka vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
Wawrinka has had some up and down moments this season, but the Monte Carlo (and Australian Open) champion remains one of the top faves for the final. He will have perhaps a challenging test in the first round against the all- court Spanish vet GGL, who he is just 3-2 h2h against on clay. Wawrinka easily won a meeting last year, however, and the 2013/14 version of Wawrinka is a much improved player from the prior version. GGL won Casablanca and made the quarters in Monte Carlo but he has slowed down since, and taking a set off Wawrinka would be a success.
(Q)Damir Dzumhur vs.(26) Feliciano Lopez
The qualifier Dzumhur made his grand slam debut at the AO this year, where he reached the third round as a qualifier. He has a great chance to add more main draw wins to his career slam record this time, as Lopez is struggling, especially on clay. Feli is just 4-5 on the surface this year, while Dzumhur won a challenger on it this spring. Dzumhur is an underdog, but I think he will pull this off and knock the veteran Spaniard out in the first round.
(12)Richard Gasquet vs. Bernard Tomic
Gasquet hasn’t played any clay tournaments this season because of a back injury, while Tomic is still working back from a thigh injury. Both players should be in poor form and rusty, at least at first. All that said, Tomic has at least a puncher’s chance of upsetting Gasquet, even on clay, given he has seen more match practice. He took a set off Martin Klizan in Nice most recently. Someone has to win this match, and I’m not sure who, especially if Gasquet is rushing back because he’s French in Paris and isn’t truly ready to get back at it.
(15)Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Carreno Busta
A tough match to pick, even with the ranking discrepancy: Youzhny has had a terrible season and is just 3-5 on clay this year, while PCB lost in the Dusseldorf opening round and isn’t in great form either, though he is good on clay. Depending on which version of these players shows up, we could be in for a 5 set war or a straight set drubbing. Youzhny has been so poor this season, intuition makes me want to pick PCB in 4.
Lukas Rosol vs. Jiri Vesely
Their only meeting was a 3 setter in a challenger last year on clay and the young Czech Vesely prevailed over his Davis Cup teammate Rosol. Now they meet on a larger stage and it’s a match to watch. Rosol is a competitive 7-4 on clay this season, while Vesely comes off semis in Dusseldorf where he found some good form. This one could go either way, but I lean towards the experience of Rosol to get through in 4 or 5 sets.
Rafa has struggled all clay court season by his standards with just one, rather lucky, title coming in Madrid. He’s still the favorite for the title given he’s an 8 time champion here and has won the last four French Opens.
He faces USTA wild card winner Robby Ginepri first, then Mathieu/Thiem, and I’d enjoy a Thiem-Nadal battle in round 2. It could be a good form test for Rafa and a good gut-check match for the young Thiem. Round 3 should be a weaker match for Rafa, as the out of form Vasek Pospisil is the seed, while Teymuraz Gabashvili, Leo Mayer and qualifier James Duckworth are the other options. Gaba has had a career year, but he hasn’t been special recently, while Mayer comes off quarters in Nice. Nadal should be able to find his way into the round of 16 and hopes to not drop a set.
Houston finalist and Barcelona semifinalist Nicolas Almagro looks for revenge against Jack Sock, this time on favorable clay, in round 1, and then should face Steve Johnson (who faces qualifier Laurent Lokoli in round 1). Almagro is the 21 seed and beat Sock in Houston this year. A big test should come against 16 seed Tommy Haas, who has good history in Paris in round 3, a quarterfinalist last year. Haas could have some trouble as his shoulder has been bothering him all season and he retired in his last match in Rome. Haas is 3-0 against Almagro, but I have it as Almagro vs. Nadal in the round of 16. Haas faces Jurgen Zopp in round 1, then Nice finalist Federico Delbonis in round 2, assuming Delbonis beats Dusan Lajovic.
Defending finalist David Ferrer faces Igor Sijsling in round 1, then challenger star Simone Bolleli or qualifier Andrea Arnaboldi in round 2. Ferrer’s first real test should come against Giraldo in round 3, as after Seppi, the Colombian faces Lucas Pouille or a struggling Juan Monaco. Ferrer is 3- 0 against Giraldo and 2-0 on clay and his style matches well with the aggressive shotmaker. Ferrer should make the round of 16.
11 seed Grigor Dimitrov faces Ivo Karlovic, the finalist in Dusseldorf in round 1. Dimitrov beat Karlovic in Rome recently on clay and has a clay title in Bucharest and a masters semi on clay in Rome on his record this season. He should cruise into round 3 as his round 2 opponent is qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer or Daniel Brands. This is Brands first tournament back since having Mono. Dimitrov, in fact, seems a safe favorite for the round of 16 as his round 3 opponent, one of Kevin Anderson/Stephane Robert/Axel Michon/Bradley Klahn are all entirely unimposing. It could be any of them in round 3, as that section seems like easy points.
Wawrinka/Garcia-Lopez will face a very easy opponent on clay in round 2, in the form of Rendy Lu or Adrian Mannarino. Following that will be one of Dzumhur/Lopez/Donald Young/Dudi Sela in round 3. It’s a weak section and I’m picking Dzumhur for round 3, and Wawrinka easily in the round of 16.
A struggling 14 seed Fabio Fognini faces qualifier Andreas Beck before Benjamin Becker or Thomaz Bellucci in round 2. Fognini is terribly inconsistent right now, and if Bellucci could somehow find form I could see him in round 3.
For now I’m going with Fabio. 23 seed Gael Monfils continues to struggle to stay healthy, but plays well at RG and pulled out of Nice last week. He faces Victor Hanescu, then Albano Olivetti/JL Struff andthen probably Fognini.
I expect Monfils to defeat his fellow showman if he’s healthy, though that circus match could go either way. Fognini won a crazy 3 setter in Indian Wells this year against Monfils and also a 5 setter in the dark at the ’09 French (2-1 career on clay). They love to get in each other’s head.
Andy Murray made quarters in Rome, and though he isn’t a great clay court player, he may finally be turning the corner this season back into his top 5 form. With his first two opponents as Andrey Golubev and Marinko Matosevic/Dustin Brown, he still should make round 3 no matter what, as their is nothing notable to mention about any of those 3 on clay. In round 3, Murray could face Dusseldorf champion Philipp Kohlschreiber, who has been poor for stretches this season but found form the past two weeks, and could be tired but challenging none the less. Kohli faces Pere Riba then Sergiy Stakhovsky or Denis Istomin. Istomin has had a strong clay season with two quarters and a semi and he lost to Kohlschreiber in 3 in the Dusseldorf semis. Given Kohli should be tired and Istomin less of a possible challenge, I think Murray makes the round of 16.
Gasquet/Tomic faces Lleyton Hewitt or Carlos Berlocq in round 2, and I like the Estoril champion Berlocq to make the third round. Hewitt, Tomic and Gasquet are all rusty or outright struggling, though Hewitt can battle. 24 seed Fernando Verdasco isn’t in the best of form, but he has a weak section with with Michael Llodra first then Matt Ebden/Pablo Cuevas and a third round meeting with Berlocq would be up in the air. Berlocq won the only clay meeting last year in Bastad. I think he will reach the second week.
Fed returned from maternity leave and lost in round 1 in Rome to Jeremy Chardy, but he reached the Monte Carlo final and has a very strong comeback season. It’s hard to predict how he will do here. All that said, the 2009 champion should be able to ease into things against Lukas Lacko in round 1 and qualifiers Gastao Elias or Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in round 2. Federer should find round 3 to be a refreshing opponent as well as Dmitry Tursunov/Potito Starace/Filippo Volandri/Sam Querrey await, all poor on clay or way out of form. Fed should reach the round of 16 by virtue of his weak draw.
PCB/Youzhny will face Radek Stepanek/Facundo Arguello in round 2, and one of Ernests Gulbis/Lukasz Kubot/Julien Benneteau/Facundo Bagnis in round 3. Gulbis won the title in Nice and though he may be tired, I think he will get through, with PCB reaching round 3.
6 seed Tomas Berdych, a former semifinalist, will face Peter Polansky and then Somdev Devvarman or Aleksandr Nedovyesov in round 2. Berdych should be tested against Roberto Bautista Agut in round 3, however, as RBA has already beaten him on a hard court this year (2-1 overall h2h) and reached his first masters semi in Madrid on clay. The Spaniard has had a career year and I’m picking him to make the second week of his second straight slam and upset Berdych again. RBA must beat qualifier Paolo Lorenzi and Alejandro Falla/Benoit Paire in round 2. Paire has struggled all season.
Struggling 17 seed Tommy Robredo faces qualifier James Ward, and then probably Nice semifinalist Albert Montanes in round 2. Montanes must beat Kenny De Schepper first, and he has really struggled in the h2h against Robredo, so the higher ranked Spaniard should still make round 3, perhaps to face the boom or bust John Isner. Isner faces Pierre Hugues Herbert in round 1, then Nicolas Mahut or Mikhail Kukushkin. Isner and Robredo have never met on clay, and I just slightly lean Robredo.
The Rome champion Djokovic, who is looking to complete the career slam with an RG title, is the co-favorite this year. He faces Joao Sousa in round 1, then Jeremy Chardy or Daniel Gimeno-Traver and most likely Marin Cilic, who he has beaten this year in round 3. Cilic must beat Pablo Andujar and qualifier Miloslav Mecir/Tobias Kamke to get to that point. Expect Djokovic into the round of 16 having played 9 sets of tennis.
A semifinalist last year, 13 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga isn’t playing that well, but he gets a beatable opponent in the form of his countryman Edouard Roger-Vasselin in round 1. After that, he’ll see David Goffin/Jurgen Melzer in round 2. Tsonga is 3-1 against Melzer and Goffin hasn’t been good recently, so I still think Jo makes round 3.
In fact, I see Tsonga in the round of 16 simply because his round 3 opponent, one of Jarkko Nieminen/Michal Przysiezny/Victor Estrella/Jerzy Janowicz are weak. They are all in poor form, especially Polish players Przysiezny and Janowicz. I like Estrella to upset Janowicz in round 1 because Jerzy has been so poor recently.
Milos Raonic has had a strong, steady season: no titles and no finals but he comes off a semi in Rome and has four other quarterfinals this year. He opens with Nick Kyrgios who continues to improve but probably isn’t ready for peak red clay yet, then Rosol/Vesely in what is not the easiest round 2 matchup for such a high seed. 29 seed Gilles Simon has been terrible this year. He will face qualifier Ante Pavic round 1 and Alejandro Gonzalez/Michael Russell in round 2. His opponents are bad enough for him to get to round 3 to get blown out by Raonic.
Last but not least is the red hot Kei Nishikori, who won Barcelona and took a set off Nadal in the Madrid final before succumbing to injury. Three of his six (just 6!) losses this season have come against Nadal or Djokovic and he entered the top 10 for the first time in his career. Kei faces Martin Klizan, the Munich champion, first up and then Robin Haase/Nikolay Davydenko and one of Alex Dolgopolov/Albert Ramos/Marcel Granollers/Ivan Dodig in round 3.
As long as he’s healthy, expect Nishikori to blast through those opponents.
Dark Horses (1 per quarter): Santiago Giraldo, Carlos Berlocq, Roberto Bautista Agut, Kei Nishikori
Giraldo could make the fourth round were he to upset Ferrer and possibly the quarters if he really catches fire. Berlocq can make the second week and possibly the quarters should he beat Murray/Kohlschreiber. RBA could make the semis if he beats Federer, and Nishikori could make the final if he upsets Djokovic (and Federer/RBA).
Week 1 predictions (round of 16 matchups and picks)
Nadal d. Almagro
Dimitrov d. Ferrer
Wawrinka d. Monfils
Murray d. Berlocq
Bautista Agut d. Robredo
Federer d. Gulbis
Nishikori d. Raonic
Djokovic d. Tsonga
Almagro upset Nadal in Barcelona this year, one of those shock Nadal red clay losses this year that has made it unlike the others. Still, Nadal utterly dominates the h2h and this is best 3 out of 5 sets on clay, so I like Rafa to get through.
Ferrer is 2-0 on clay against Dimitrov and won in Monte Carlo in straights against him this year, but I just feel it’s Dimitrov’s time to break through and I’m putting him through.
Wawrinka is 3-2 against Monfils and has never met him on clay. As long as he plays ok, he should get past Monfils unless it’s peak Monfils, which is always possible.
I like Murray over Berlocq simply because of quality of play, while RBA beat Robredo in Madrid and I tip him to do so again here.
Federer should out-do a tired Gulbis, and Nishikori has been a little better than Raonic on clay this season. Milos could perhaps overpower him, something he failed to do so in Madrid losing in straights.
Djokovic should knife through Tsonga.
My Full Tournament Picks
Nadal d. Dimitrov
Wawrinka d. Murray
Federer d. Bautista Agut
Djokovic d. Nishikori
Nadal is 2-0 career on clay against Dimitrov and beat him at the AO this year in the best 3 out of 5 format. It could go 4 or 5, but Rafa probably has the edge.
Wawrinka is better on clay than Murray flat out.
RBA could beat Fed. It’s possible, but I can’t confidently pick it.
Djokovic should be tested by Nishikori, but I think he’s just too good for the Japanese number 1.
Nadal d. Wawrinka
Djokovic d. Federer
Look for Nadal to get some AO revenge. He’s 5-0 on clay career against Stan.
Fed did beat Novak in Monte Carlo, but coming off the maternity leave, Djokovic is more match ready and has otherwise done well in the h2h.
Djokovic d. Nadal
A repeat of the Rome final. Nadal has all the history on his side, but I just feel Novak has the momentum and he will finally earn the career slam against a weakened Nadal, who still isn’t playing like his usual self.